The White House is blaming Republicans in Congress for the lack of action on guns, turning up the heat on the GOP to address rampant gun violence while appealing to voters fed up with America’s epidemic of mass shootings.
President Biden is focusing his anger over the elementary school shooting in Nashville this week squarely on Republicans, calling for lawmakers to show courage and warning that Congress will have to answer to families that have lost loved ones through gun violence.
“The Congress has to act. The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre, it’s a crazy idea. They’re against that,” Biden said on Tuesday. “I can’t do anything except plead with Congress to act reasonably.”
The president’s broadsides came one day after the deadly shooting at a private Christian elementary school in an upscale Nashville neighborhood. The 28-year-old suspect was armed with three guns, two of which were assault-type weapons, according to local authorities. The shooter killed three children and three adults before being killed by police.
While calling for an assault weapons ban on Tuesday, Biden said people ask him why he keeps urging reforms that Republicans repeatedly reject.
“Because I want you to know who isn’t doing it, who isn’t helping. Put pressure on them,” he said, adding that there’s “a moral price to pay for inaction.”
Monday’s tragedy has revived the on-again, off-again debate over gun violence on Capitol Hill, where the parties have vastly different ideas about how to address the epidemic. Democrats have, for decades, pushed tougher gun laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people, and they’re joining the White House in accusing Republicans of sitting on their hands while kids are killed.
“Every time one of these tragedies happens it’s a reminder of just how pathetic this institution is at addressing this,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
Republicans have defended their position, arguing that tighter gun restrictions would do little more than erode liberties guaranteed under the Second Amendment. The more effective strategy, they say, would be to focus on efforts to treat mental illness and fortify schools.
“We’ve talked about things that we can do, and it just seems like on the other side, all they want to do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was severely injured in a shooting in 2017, told reporters Tuesday.
In an effort to move new reform legislation, some House Democrats are eyeing a procedural move, known as a discharge petition, to compel floor votes even over the opposition of GOP leaders. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D), a Virginia moderate, floated that idea at a closed-door meeting in the Capitol Tuesday morning. The strategy has little chance of bearing fruit, but Democrats hope it will draw a clear distinction between the parties when it comes to gun violence prevention.
“We should not assume that the House — or the Senate, for that matter — are impervious to public opinion,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (Colo.), who heads the Democrats’ messaging arm.
The White House’s strategy to blame Republicans has been fueled by recent comments from GOP lawmakers, some of whom say gun violence is simply an unavoidable fact of life.
“My daddy fought in the Second World War, fought in the Pacific, fought the Japanese, and he told me … ‘Buddy, if somebody wants to take you out and doesn’t mind losing their life, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it,’” he added.
Nonetheless, the White House maintains that an assault weapons ban, among other reforms, would help to stop the uptick of mass shootings. Biden was in the Senate when the last assault weapons ban, which expired after 10 years, passed under former President Clinton in 1994.
“The reality is, we need Republicans in Congress to get on board with an assault weapons ban, to get on board with universal background checks, to get on board with requiring safe storage … These are policies that work — it’s not rocket science here,” White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said on Tuesday.
“I think the president will do everything in his power to continue to urge them to act,” she added. “All we can do is continue to fight.”
From the White House, Biden argues that he has done his part, between issuing executive orders on gun safety and signing the most comprehensive gun safety legislation in decades, which passed last year.
Just two weeks ago, Biden signed an executive order that aims to increase the number of background checks conducted before gun sales. The order builds on the bipartisan gun legislation that Biden signed into law in June.
“This president has been extremely forward-leaning and aggressive in trying to tackle this issue of gun safety,” Dalton said. “There’s a limit to his executive power, and there’s a need for Congress to do more in this moment.”
The debate comes ahead of the president officially announcing that he will run for reelection next year. Gun violence could play a factor in the next election, and the president is expected to tout his own gun safety agenda while highlighting the GOP’s inaction.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who was a lead GOP negotiator on last year’s bipartisan gun reforms, said Monday that he doesn’t think the Senate will take further steps before next year’s elections. And other Republicans are already pushing back against Biden’s finger-pointing in the wake of the Nashville shooting.
“It doesn’t get much lower than blaming Republicans in Congress for a transgender killer who targeted a Christian school. Shameful,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter. The suspect in the Nashville shooting identified as transgender.
Meanwhile, Democrats argue it’s a good strategy for the White House to keep up the blame on Republicans lawmakers ahead of 2024 in the face of tragedies like Monday’s school shooting.
“If Republicans think that running on increasing access to guns is a winning argument, the White House should make them own every bit of the destruction and despair that they are creating,” said Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins. “Most Democrats aren’t anti-gun, they’re anti dangerous people getting their hands on guns. I expect the president to hammer that message home.”
Another Democratic strategist, Antjuan Seawright, said the White House framing the gun debate as an issue for Republicans to come around on is the right move because people are frustrated and looking to Washington for solutions every time they hear of another mass shooting.
“I think the president is doing the right thing by saying look, it’s not that he’s not willing, it’s not that the Democrats are not willing, it’s not even that some Republicans are not willing,” he said. “It’s the majority of the Republicans who are not willing, so it’s the Republican Party.”